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Long Weekend Kickoff!

Jon and I prefer vacations with variety, and who doesn’t love a little shopping?  I have to admit, I don’t shop for clothes very often, but I was able to start out our August long weekend with a little shopping at Oregon’s Woodburn Premium Outlet Mall.

Jon and I got a jump start on our vacation by driving down to Woodburn after work on Thursday evening.  Our final destination was Grants Pass, Oregon, so driving to Woodburn allowed us to get more than halfway there.  We stayed at the La Quinta nearby, which is frequently our home base when we go wine tasting in the area.  After getting some breakfast with Jon’s parents (they ended up at the La Quinta too!), we made our way to the Outlet Mall.

The Loft was having a clearance sale and I spent awhile there, exploring the clearance rack and trying on several things.  I made out like a bandit, getting two dresses, several pairs of shorts and tops, and two sweaters.  I topped off my shopping with a new pair of Naturalizer wedge sandals with cork soles, and a cozy Columbia fleece.  Jon found a couple of things for himself as well; a jacket, a long sleeved running shirt, and a new watch.

After the outlet mall, we had a quick lunch at Subway, and then continued on towards Grant’s Pass.  We wanted to stop along the way at a few wineries that we had never tried before, ones that were reasonably close to the freeway.  I found one that was right off the freeway in my Oregon winery book, Sienna Ridge Estate.  The Sienna Ridge tasting room is located in a historic home built in 1906.  Sienna Ridge’s vineyards are also unique, as one of the only individual vineyards to be designated as its own AVA, Red Hill Vineyard.  We made the short detour, only to find it… closed for an event.  Foiled!

Sienna Ridge Estate – Closed!

Sienna Ridge Estate – Closed!

We got back on the freeway for a few more exits while I consulted my book again and decided we would try out Palotai Vineyard and Winery.  Neither of us had ever heard of it before, so we weren’t sure what we would find.  The winery is a tiny little place tucked down at the end of a long gravel driveway with four acres of vineyards on either side.  The tasting area is the front of the wine production facility and warehouse, with a small covered area in the front with barrel tables.

Palotai Vineyard and Winery

Palotai Vineyard and Winery

The server ran us through a tasting of four wines.  I didn’t take notes, but they were all good.  The winery was owned by a Hungarian gentleman who had fled Communist Hungary in the 1980s.  He started out training horses in Sacramento, and then eventually began making wine using European methods. He made small batches of wine that are drinkable right after bottling.

I had their white blend, the Bianca, the 2012 Pinot Noir, the 2012 Dolcetto and the Bull’s Blood – named after a traditional Hungarian wine, it is their most popular wine.  Curiously, the Bull’s Blood was my least favorite, but still pretty decent.  In speaking with the server, we learned that the owner of the winery had decided to pursue other goals, and had recently sold the vineyard.  The plan was for the owner to make one more vintage of wine in fall 2014 for the new owner and the new winery name.  We purchased 4 bottles of Palotai wine, knowing there won’t be more…

We stopped for some groceries and then found our rental for the weekend and got settled in.  The house was huge, with a hot tub and a pool.  We enjoyed a steak and salad dinner on the front patio overlooking the river, and watched the Canada geese flying back home from their daily feeding grounds.  And we got to check out the jet boats on the river!  It was a great end to a wonderful first day of vacation!

Canada Geese Hanging Out on the Rogue River

Canada Geese Hanging Out on the Rogue River

 

California Marathon Road Trip: Gundlach Bundschu

Our second winery stop was at Gundlach Bundschu – good luck trying to pronounce that name!  It is the oldest continuously family-owned winery in California.  It was founded by Jacob Gundlach in 1858 as Rhinefarm, with Charles Bundschu joining the company in 1868 – originally the farm in Sonoma was about 400 acres.  It was renamed Gundlach Bundschu in 1894 and at the turn of the 20th century the company was producing about 250,000 cases of wine each year.

Up until that point the winery facility was located in San Francisco, but the production facilities and about a million gallons of wine were destroyed by the earthquake in 1906.  They moved the production facility to Sonoma after the quake and then Prohibition hit.

During prohibition the winery closed its doors, and all but 130 acres of the farm were sold – the family managed to make a living selling grapes for juice and raising cattle.  After prohibition, the farm began selling grapes to Inglenook, Almaden and then Louis Martini wineries, but didn’t reopen the winery until the 1970s.

The winery now produces about 25,000 cases total – I believe all their wines are estate grown.  They have a huge tasting room with a gorgeous outdoor patio area; seems that they do a lot of events.  Too bad it was too cold to sit outside and enjoy the view!

Gundlach Bundschu Patio

Gundlach Bundschu Patio

Gundlach Bundschu was a fun winery; our server was Columbian and he was super friendly.  We tried Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.  We both loved the Zin!  It was fruit forward and balanced, without losing structure.  There was a lot of pepper and spice on the Merlot, and the Chardonnay was a nice acidic wine with a light balanced oak on the back of the palate.  The only wine I didn’t really like was the Gewürztraminer.  I liked it at first taste – it was semi-sweet with citrus, but there was a floral finish on the back of the palate that didn’t appeal to me.

Gundlach Bundschu Tasting Room

Gundlach Bundschu Tasting Room

While we were there several other groups came in, and you can tell they have a loyal following.  Which isn’t surprising, given the quality of the wine.  What a fantastic visit!

May Day at Walnut City WineWorks

While we were down visiting family in Portland in May, my cousin and I decided to do an afternoon of wine tasting in the Willamette Valley.  After Megan and I visited Chehalem Winery, we headed to another winery in McMinnville: Walnut City WineWorks.  Jon and I had visited a few years before, at the recommendation of Jon’s grandfather, and they had some really good wines, so I was excited to try them again.

Walnut City WineWorks is a custom crush facility that provides a production facility for several wine labels: Walnut City WineWorks, Bernard Machado, Carlton Hill, Z’IVO, Lundeen, Genius Loci, and Robinson Reserve.  What makes Walnut City WineWorks different is the fact that they are actively involved in vineyard management for the various labels, and all the labels are sold in the tasting room.  The Walnut City label produces about 6,000 cases per year, and when you combine all the labels the production is about 12,000 cases per year.  They are located in a historic brick building right near downtown McMinnville; I’m sure that it used to be an industrial facility of some sort.  It has been nicely renovated with a modern and tasteful decor, although it is a bit dark inside.

Our server for the day guided us through a selection of their wines from a few of their different labels.  We began with the Walnut City Hodge Podge, a white blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Riesling and Auxerrois.  Wow, that’s quite a blend!  I certainly picked up a lot of the Gewurztraminer in the wine, but overall I thought it was a bit too sweet for my taste.  Megan really liked it though.  After that, we tried the 2011 Z’IVO Pinot Blanc.  Unfortunately, I didn’t write any tasting notes on this wine, and I couldn’t find any online, but I liked it enough to buy two bottles (I’ll have to crack open a bottle soon to give you some better tasting notes on this one!)

We also tried the Z’IVO Charly, which is a blend of 75% Gewurztraminer, 20% Pinot Gris and 5% Viognier.  Again, I thought the wine was a bit too sweet, but Megan loved it (she declared it to be her favorite) and went home with two bottles.  Next we tried the 2012 Walnut City Rose, a Pinot Noir Rose made in the Old World style.  It was dry and crisp and absolutely delicious.  The 2011 Walnut City WineWorks Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is the largest production at the winery, with 4,000 cases produced.  It was bright and tart, with a light mouthfeel and a soft, elegant structure.  I really enjoyed it, but it is certainly a very delicate Pinot.

We also sampled the Bernard-Machado 2007 Pinot Noir.  Our server explained that this wine is only produced in years of great grapes, which was confusing to me because I have heard that 2007 wasn’t such a fantastic year in Oregon Pinot – the cool, wet season led to wines that are much softer and more delicate than other years – characteristics in Pinot that I personally love, but not everybody does.  This wine exhibited more of the earthy, forest floor flavors, and it was good, but not outstanding, and it didn’t warrant the $36 price tag for me.

The Walnut City WineWorks 2008 Pinot Noir Reserve was more up my alley.  Spice, black cherries and cola dominate this wine that was barrel aged for 18 months and bottle aged for another 24 months.  It won a Gold Medal at the Great Northwest Wine Competition, a new competition where the judges aren’t professional tasters, but rather people working in the wine industry in Washington and Oregon.

We finished off our tasting with a Lundeen wine, the 2008 Rogue Valley Syrah.  The grapes are sourced from the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon, which has hotter, drier summers and and is known for growing the hot weather grapes.  That said, this Syrah is nicely balanced, and was described as a Syrah for Pinot lovers.  The flavors of blueberry and blackberry are accented by just a hint of dark chocolate.

Megan and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit, but of course I didn’t think to take any photos.  We did take some wine home with us – we got a case between us and the server was kind enough to allow us to ring the orders separately and still apply the discount.  If you have a chance to visit, you won’t be disappointed.  And be sure to let me know what you think!

The Biltmore Estate Wine Tasting

Included in our Biltmore Estate admission was a free tasting at the Biltmore Winery. I knew Biltmore had a winery, but they don’t have distribution on the West Coast, so I had never had any of their wines before, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect… On walking into the winery, you are immediately struck by how big it is. There are at least 6 islands, with tasting space for at least 20 people at each island. Wow!

On Our Way to the Winery – Jon on a Mission

It wasn’t super busy, and we were led over to an island with about 8 other people.  The interesting thing about the Biltmore tasting is that you can taste everything if you want. And it is no small selection – they have 24 wines on their complimentary tasting menu! I figured that since I wasn’t driving, I would take them up on the offer!

The Biltmore’s Tasting Room

The Tasting Room building used to be the estate’s dairy barn.  The wooden beams on the ceiling and the steel cross bars are leftover from the dairy days – I don’t know why they decorated the steel structure with white banners, I think it looks weird.  I think that they should have tried to retain more of the original dairy barn features, because you would never guess that it was a dairy barn when you walk into the building now.

Our server was a young man who looked to be about 21. I wondered if the Biltmore wines are the only wines he’s ever had. He was friendly and knew the answers to basic questions about the wines, but was stumped when I asked him anything more in-depth.  I imagine our server sees mostly tourists, and not many tourists who are serious about their wine, so he probably isn’t used to questions like mine.  He commented a couple of times on the detailed notes I took. I didn’t think they were that detailed – certainly not as detailed as what I’ve included below, this is after I went back and expanded them a bit. So, without further ado, my take on the Biltmore wines (and see Dad, I didn’t try them all!)

Whites

  • Sauvignon Blanc – This wine was very floral, like a Viognier, with a grassy flavor. Not my favorite.
  • Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc – didn’t try, assuming it would also be very floral
  • Reserve Chardonnay 2009 North Carolina – Very buttery. I prefer a crisper stainless aged Chardonnay, but Jon liked this one.
  • Chardonnay Sur Lies – the server explained that Sur Lie means that the yeast settles on top for a couple of months, like beer. This wine was light, with a hint of carbonation. Interesting, but not a knockout wine.
  • Pinot Grigio – This one had a honeysuckle nose, with a light citrus flavor, a slight tartness and a hint of honey. Pretty decent!
  • Riesling – This wine was honey sweet and syrupy, with not crispness at all. I was not a fan.
  • Century White – I didn’t try this one.
  • Chenin Blanc – This wine was sweet with a slight syrupy feel. It tasted of pineapple and honey.  It was decent, but I like my Chenin Blanc more on the crisp side.
  • Limited Release Chenin Blanc – Our server told me that this wine was sweeter than the regular Chenin Blanc, but I found it to be less sweet. It has more of a tropical fruit taste, without the honey of the regular Chenin Blanc. I liked this one quite a bit!
  • House White – This wine was very floral, and sweet at the same time. An interesting combination. Our server told us that it is a blend with Malvasia, which is a sweet white. I hadn’t heard of Malvasia grape before – it originated in the Mediterranean and is typically used in white blends, sweet wines, and some dessert and fortified wines. I didn’t love the Biltmore House White, but I’ll have to keep an eye out for this grape in the future.

Rosés

  • Century Rosé – This is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Grenache. This wine has a very light taste of strawberry. It was good, but almost didn’t taste like a wine – more like a fruit juice.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc de Noir – This wine was a light melon flavor. It was very enjoyable!
  • Zinfandel Blanc de Noir – This wine was very good, with raspberry and tropical fruit. It was sweet, and I imagine it would be a wonderful summer wine with chocolate!
  • 2012 Festival of Flowers Rose – This wine was sold out, so we didn’t get to try it. The name implies it is a floral wine, which I’m not a bit fan of, but the description said it is sweet and fruity. I guess I’ll never know.

Reds

  • Pinot Noir – This Pinot was very light and seemed watered down and lacked much flavor. It was pretty disappointing.
  • Cardinal’s Crest – This wine was a blend of the kitchen sink – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Grenache, but it works! It has a taste of blackberry with light oak. It is fairly tart, it needs to age just a bit to settle some. It would be a great wine with a meal, the perfect spaghetti wine!
  • Merlot – I didn’t try this one.
  • Sangiovese – This wine smelled strongly of smoke, and had a berry and plum flavor. It was ok, but not spectacular.
  • Century Red – This wine is a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. Jon didn’t like this wine, but I did. It has the taste of plum and vanilla and smoke on the nose.
  • Syrah – I didn’t try this one.
  • Zinfandel – This wine has a lot of berry taste and tart acidity with a light mouth feel. The tasting notes described it as having tobacco and caramel aromas, which I did not get from it though. It was decent, but not great.
  • Limited Release Merlot – This wine was very bitter on the back of the throat. It was heavily oaked, and I didn’t like it at all.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – Jon didn’t like this one, which was odd as he typically likes Cabs best. I thought it was nice, as it was not very oaked.
  • House Red – I didn’t try this one either.

The winery has some premium wines that you can taste for a fee, but we decided not to.  Maybe if the complimentary wines had been a bit more impressive…  All in all, I thought that the Biltmore wines were very drinkable, but not great wines.  I liked the Rosés the best, perhaps because a Rosé is supposed to be a light, refreshing summer wine, and it doesn’t need the structure to age.  It seems that Biltmore still has a way to go in order to get to where many of the Oregon, California and Washington wines are. And that’s ok, since wine tasting wasn’t the focus of this trip. And we had plenty of historic sites still to come!

The Biltmore wines are all reasonably priced, so I did walk away with 3 bottles – my favorites from the tasting.  As we were only on the second day of our trip, I knew we would have an opportunity to drink them before we got back on the plane to come home…  I bought the Limited Release Chenin Blanc, the Zinfandel Blanc de Noir, and the Cardinal’s Crest.  We brought home a couple of their logo glasses too, to remember the trip long after those bottles were gone.

Come Put Your Blindfold on For This Wine Tasting!

Over the weekend, Jon and I hosted our first blind wine tasting party.  I blogged about the rules in a previous post, here, if you want to know how I intended it to work.  A few weeks ago I put out the invites and everybody selected a different varietal.  Somewhat oddly, we ended up with a near perfect balance of 6 whites and 7 reds.

My Dad was generous enough to do the honors of keeping things truly blind.  Guests bagged their wines before they came in the door, and then my Dad uncorked the wines, mixed them up and labeled them with letters.  So nobody knew which wine was in which bag.  And even if you thought you knew the shape and color of the bottle you brought, you quickly forgot once the festivities got underway!

While Dad was busy uncorking, I had everybody introduce themselves, and explained the rules, and handed out score sheets and tasting notes.  Yes, that’s right.  I’m a nerd!  I trolled the internet and my wine books for notes describing the characteristics of each varietal.  I tried to make them as helpful as I could.  The rules of the game were simple; each guest had to taste each wine and guess the varietal.  They could get a bonus point for guessing the right region.  There was no penalty for incorrect guessing.  As soon as Dad had the wines were ready to go, the party began!  (And yes, in case you were wondering – I party with my parents.  I’m sure that makes me old.  But hey, they are fun!)

The Hidden Labeled Bottles

Once everybody got down to tasting, it was hysterical!  There were as many different types of tasters as people at the party.  One friend pored analytically over the tasting notes while tasting and tried to find the identifiable scents and tastes.  He was so serious!  But interestingly, he finished before any of the rest of us.  Some tasters wrote down their first guess and did not waver.  Others scratched out their guesses several times.  The ladies were laughing uncontrollably as we tried to figure out the wines.  One of the ladies (I can’t remember who now) was wandering around saying (multiple times), “I’m looking for melting butter.”

We all were confused when we got to Wine “F”, which was a white wine.  It poured red!  My mom dumped it out the first time because she wanted to taste all the whites first.  I kept my mouth shut and pondered to myself, because I thought my Dad had made a mistake and put a red in with the whites – but he is an engineer, and normally so meticulous!  So I tasted it and knew instantly that it was a Muscat – a Black Muscat!

As for me, I did really well on the whites – I guessed all 6 correctly!  The reds were a different story.  They were tough!  I couldn’t even guess the Cabernet Sauvignon correctly – none of the wines seemed very oaky, and they were all smooth and delicious.  The further along we got, the tougher it was – thank goodness we had the region bonus points!

Blind Wine Tasting Score Sheet

When everybody finished up with their tastings – we did the big reveal.  I had everybody guess which varietal they thought it was before I opened the bag.  We almost peed our pants laughing when I asked for a guess on a white wine and one of Jon’s friends called out “Merlot!”  Much hooting and hollering occurred when we got a wine right!  It was like being in South America when the home team scored a soccer goal!  The winner for the most correct guesses received a bottle of wine, and we gave a magazine on wine for the guest who got the least correct.  That was a 3 way tie for the worst score – 1 point (out of 26 possible)!  So I had them duke it out via a rousing game of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ for the prize.

All in all, the party was certainly fun, and definitely something that I would host again.  I think everybody had fun – at least I hope everybody did!

Smell This Wine – is that Cat Pee?

I hosted a blind wine tasting party for some friends and family this weekend.  So, to get ready for the fun, I wrote up some tasting notes for guests and it got me wondering about the adjectives that are used when describing wines.  Some of the flavors and aromas, I totally get.  To say something has a lot of minerality, or tastes like green apple, I can definitely see what you are talking about.  But other descriptions are a bit more – let’s just say – out there.

I’ve seen wine reviewers describe a red wine as tasting like leather.  Huh?  Now I grew up with horses, so I have actually had leather in my mouth from time to time while holding my horse’s reins between my teeth so I can free up my hands for something for a minute (not that I would recommend that as a super-smart thing to do, but don’t tell my mom).  But I have never set out to taste leather, and I wonder why a wine reviewer would have tasted leather.  Biting a leather strap while having his foot amputated without anesthesia?  Or maybe he rode horses too, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but why would he assume all his readers have tasted leather?

Once, a wine reviewer described a wine as having a hint of petrol flavor.  It was in a newspaper review, but I don’t remember the winery or the wine that the reviewer was discussing.  Now this is just wrong on several levels.  First off, we’re in the United States – we call it gas.  And then, who in their right mind would taste gas?  Do you just wake up one morning craving a shot out of the pump at the corner station?  I suppose maybe you have tasted gas if you are siphoning a car, but I tend to think that is generally a criminal activity, and call me biased, but I don’t think your run-of-the-mill gas thief goes for a fine bottle of Sauvignon Blanc on the weekend.  Imagine being the winemaker whose wine was just described as tasting of petrol!  That’s gotta hurt!

Which brings me back to the wine tasting notes from this weekend.  Gerwurztraminer, a German varietal that I generally associate with being a sweet wine, was described as having a taste that ranged from apricot (yes, I totally get this), to perfume and bath salts.  Bath salts?  Is somebody not getting enough sodium in their diet that they have to gnaw on a bath salt?  Let me just say, I am pleased to not have come upon a Gerwurztraminer that I would say tasted like bath salts.  Not yet anyway, I’ll keep you posted.

One of the richer adjectives that I left out of my notes for my guests was that Sauvignon Blanc can smell like cat pee.  I had never noticed a Sauv. Blanc smelling like cat pee before, and some of my guests were not “experienced” tasters, so I didn’t want to freak anybody out.  So we are standing around the table tasting “Letter E”, and my mother in law says, “Smell this.  It smells like cat pee.”  And it did!  Amazingly like cat pee.  Of course, sadly, by this time it had been several days since I had drawn up the tasting notes, so I couldn’t remember which wine was supposed to have this aroma.  Next time, I’ll include the reference for sure!

I’ll be sure to blog about the blind wine tasting party soon – there were other memorable moments besides the cat pee comment.  But a good time was had by all!

A Home Buying Wine Tour

So, it’s one week until closing. We are just waiting, and getting the last bit of our packing finished. Our financing has been finalized for weeks, so other than packing, we really haven’t had a lot to do. Our buyer, however, is still not ready to go with her financing and it is making me nervous. Her mortgage officer is trying to reassure our agent that everything will be ready to go by closing, but I’m still nervous. I can’t understand why it should be taking so long if things are happening as they should. So, in the meantime, I’m trying not to think about it.  Yes, I’ll admit it – I try to be very organized about these things, and it annoys me to no end when other people are not, if it affects my world. And this certainly affects my world.

I have been a bit absorbed with this whole home process lately, and my wine and travel blog has been suffering. We haven’t had time to do much wine tasting! I’m looking forward to turning that around once we move and get some semblance of a normal life back. That said, we did do a local mini-tour last weekend in honor of harvest weekend with Jon’s mom and sister. We went to two local wineries – Willow Tree and Glacial Lake Missoula.

Willow Tree Vineyards is a new winery in the area, having opened their tasting room in April. As you drive in, it certainly doesn’t look like much. There is a ramshackle single-wide trailer on the driveway to the winery, and the winery itself is housed in a non-descript pole building. Which isn’t that uncommon for wineries in this area. Don’t let that deter you. Once you walk inside, the tasting room is tastefully decorated, with a fireplace, comfy seating, and a stand-up tasting bar. They also have had chocolates and cheese and crackers out each time I’ve been there, which is a huge bonus. I’m usually hungry in the afternoon, and the nibbles are great to hold me over until dinner. The co-owner is usually serving, and she is warm and friendly and knowledgeable about their wines. It is a winery where you feel welcome!

Willow Tree has several whites, including a Sauvignon Blanc, two vintages of Chardonnay and Viognier, and a Pinot Gerwurztraminer. My favorite of these is the Sauvignon Blanc, which has a crisp minerality that I enjoy. Jon likes their more heavily oaked Chardonnay. Willow Tree is currently having a labeling issue with the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency) on their “waiting to be released” Blue Heaven, which is a Blueberry Riesling. Yes, Riesling combined with Blueberry juice. We got to barrel taste it, and it was delicious. Which makes the fact that the ATF has now rejected 7 versions of the label especially frustrating for Jon’s mom and me, as we have to continue to wait to buy it! Willow Tree also has several good reds, including a Carmenere, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc. Unfortunately, all the reds are currently sold out except for the Cab Franc. So, we are eagerly awaiting next year’s releases. What a nice problem for a new winery to have!

After we left Willow Tree, we headed out to Blaine to visit our favorite local winery, Glacial Lake Missoula. Tracey was holding down the fort with a friend, as Tom took a trip down to Oregon to pick up grapes. They are branching out and producing a Chardonnay and a Gamay Noir. I’m very excited about both. The Chardonnay will be another “enrobed” wine, which is Tom’s name for a white wine that is colored (and flavored) with the skins of red grapes. A white wine that looks like a red. And depending on the temperature you serve it at, it can taste completely different. Their current “enrobed” wine is a Marsanne, which is excellent, so I can’t wait to see what they do with the Chardonnay. And Gamay Noir is one of my favorite varietals, so I’m super-excited to try this one. Of course, as they are just crushing now, both wines have awhile until release. It is just so hard to wait!

I’m sensing a theme with this post. Waiting…. One of my least favorite things to do. Hopefully in one more week, the wait for the house will be over. Stay tuned.

P.S.  After posting this, I learned that our buyer’s loan docs are finalized and at the title company!  So everything should be good to go now!